Friday, April 19, 2024

A Few Days in LA – How to Make the Most of Los Angeles From Someone Who Thought They Hated It (Plus the Ultimate LA Itinerary)

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Kelly Bertrand gives LA a second chance – and she’s shocked to find she… kind of loves it? Here’s her tried and true LA itinerary.

Los Angeles – it’s a place so mythical that you don’t even know where to start when you finally escape the chaos of LAX and into the haze of heat, noise and weed. It’s a place unlike anywhere else in the world that makes you simultaneously want to crinkle your nose and open your eyes wider – a sprawling city of contradiction and crazy.

It’s my second time in LA and if I’m perfectly honest with you, I had no plans on returning after my last visit. As a young Kiwi girl, LA’s gritty cool-girl vibe was a bit much on my first trip (apart from one shining, glorious moment – see below). But with a few more years under my belt, this time around I was pleasantly surprised – kind of like when you have an average first date, decide to give the dude another chance and figure out that yes, he was just nervous! The key for a great trip in LA, in my opinion, is variety – mix up the theme parks with cool neighbourhood tours, arty museums, beach visits and hikes up the hills, and you’ll be a happy chappy.

So here’s my highlights for a four-day LA jaunt (including a couple of things from my last trip because they’re just too good to not include!) wrapped up in what I think is the perfect LA itinerary:

DAY ONE:

Hike the Hollywood Sign

Yes it’s cheesy and kitsch and all that but darl, you’ve just got to do it (and you need to get the legs going after that mammoth flight!). It’s a doable hike up the hill (trust me, I’d tell you if it wasn’t) and you head around the back of the sign and up to the peak above for an absolutely *iconic* view of Los Angeles. Head to hollywoodsign.org for a full list of hiking trails and the best viewpoints (and if you’re going this year all the better – the sign turns 100!).

Have lunch at the Beachwood Café

Tucked away in the Hollywood Hills and conveniently located on your way back down from the sign is the Beachwood Café (yup, like, in Sign of the Times but sadly when we were there it was sans Harry or Olivia). It’s iconic but not fancy – their menu looks like a better Denny’s with lots of breakfast, burger and Mexican options – and inside is a chilled vibe. Buuuut that’s not to say you won’t spot a celeb – our group spied Anna Kendrick having a business meeting, and unfortunately for him considering my group contained five New Zealand journalists, everyone’s favourite Kiwi actor Cliff Curtis who looked suitably confused when we all said Kia Ora outside (guys, the stories are true – he is bloody LOVELY).

Check out The Broad

If you’re an art enthusiast, or you simply like to look at pretty things while you wander around (guess which one I am) then The Broad is the place for you. It’s free entry and contains so much glorious contemporary art that you don’t need to understand why it’s pretty. It’s a perfect chill activity to add into your LA itinerary that’ll get you out of the LA heat for a few hours!

DAY TWO

Universal Studios, Baby!

This experience was from my first trip and I can honestly say it was one of the best moments of my life because, as a true Basic Millennial™ I am a Harry Potter superfan and as soon as I entered The Wizarding World of Harry Potter I started crying, and I didn’t really stop until we left. For the first time in my life I felt like I was in the books and for me that was a money-can’t-buy experience (although fair warning, money can buy it and it’s not cheap). But I also adored the rest of the park, especially Springfield, The Simpsons land and I legit had one of the best burgers of my life at Krusty Burger, washed down with a Duff beer. It doesn’t get much better – it’s a must in your LA itinerary.

The Warner Bros Studio Tour

Keep the movie theme going with the Warner Bros Studio Tour, where you’ll be guided via golf cart through the working studio, including the actual Central Perk set from Friends, actual stages where current TV shows and movies are being filmed, backlots where you’ll see entire streets that have been featured in shows such as Gilmour Girls, a stop at the Friends fountain (there’s even a couch for the perfect photo opp) and plenty of other cool spots. You can then have lunch at the Friends café, but do manage your expectations – me and my pals were imagining Central Perk, but it’s really just a quick bites café with a smidge of a Friends theme. They have cool themed food though – you can buy a ‘Moist Maker’ sandwich, and there are six specialty coffees named after the gang. We were there just days after Matthew Perry died and there were plenty of fans paying tribute, including a bunch of flowers that had been left outside the Friends stage.

Dinner at Beauty & Essex

When you first walk into this restaurant, you’ll think you’re in a vintage store and seeing as you’re in the vinyl district (carve out some time for shopping if you can) you’ll be forgiven if you thought you were in the wrong place. But this restaurant absolutely serves when it comes to good food – it’s perfect for sharing in a large group, and everyone is bound to find something they want. Don’t miss the Little French Dips – sirloin, gruyere cheese, horseradish aioli and jus on toast – and my personal favourite, the grilled cheese, smoked bacon and tomato soup dumplings.

DAY THREE

Breakfast To Go at Erewhon

Look, I’ll put this in because you have to go – Erewhon makes Farro or Moore Wilsons look like Pak’n’Save and the sheer variety of weird and delicious stuff on the shelves will entertain you for hours (there was so much sea moss?) but everyone goes here to get the Hailey Bieber smoothie. DO NOT do it. It’s full of sugar, SUPER sweet and you’ll need a mortgage just to pay for it (it came to almost $40 NZD). However, Erewhon has heaps of to-go food that is delicious, so grab a breakfast bagel or a sammie and call it a day.

Get on Your Bike With Bikes and Hikes LA

The iconic pink wall – add it to your LA itinerary, I guess?

I didn’t expect this to be the highlight of the trip – despite the fact that I have a bubble butt to end all bubble butts (thank you), there’s something about my bum that just does not agree with a bike seat. HOWEVER, walking like a cowboy for a few days was worth it after our epic bike trip that saw us cover 20km, including Melrose (uber chic and cool shops), West Hollywood (a fun area with awesome bars and nightlife), the iconic Pink Wall (I don’t get why it’s iconic, it’s literally just a pink wall but hey, when in LA…) and the stunning homes of Hancock Park. The guides are fun and make you feel super-safe even when you’re pedalling your little heart out on Melrose Ave (ok, fine, we were on electric bikes). It’s honestly one of the most incredible ways to see so much of the city up-close, and hear some great yarns you otherwise would have never known. PLUS they give you a beer when you get back. It’s an unmissable addition to your LA itinerary.

Grab Lunch at Grand Central Market

A food court with more attitude than a Kardashian, Grand Central Market features vendors that have been there for decades, with institutions that have been passed down between generations. It’s been going since 1917 and it’s got everything your little heart could desire (and it’s a welcome break from American portions!). And, of course, there’s the famous Eggslut which, you guessed it, focusses on eggs and has somehow gained cult status (again it’s LA, I don’t know).

Head out to Venice Beach

It’s iconic, it’s fun, it’s edgy… and we went, it was completely cloaked in fog and absolutely freezing. Seriously, we went from 27 degree sun and heat in Hollywood to 14 degree winter in the space of two minutes and I’ve NEVER experienced such a change in weather, which is saying something considering I’ve lived in Tāmaki Makaurau all my life. So for the love of god, take a jumper so you don’t end up like me and my mate in search of the cheapest sweater we could find:

Noooooot what we planned on for Venice chic

Yup, that’s a biker wolf with a flower crown.

Anywho, stroll around the beach and the amazing vintage shops for a while before heading up to the road to the Abbot Kinney Food Truck Fest (the first Friday of every month) or pop into one of the local restaurants.

DAY FOUR

Check Out The Grove

It’s LA’s favourite shopping complex for a reason and it’s just a joy to walk around – pop in for brunch (remember though that Americans start their day later, so if you’re an eager beaver and arrive at 9am, NOTHING will be open) or head to the original farmer’s market next door for a bite to eat.

Head to Hollywood Boulevard

Again, I’m including this because it’s one of the things you *have* to include in the LA itinerary, but be prepared for the fact that America’s most famous street is, well, not as glitzy and glamorous as you think it is. However it’s tourist central so the people watching is *chef’s kiss* and a lot of the Hollywood Walk of Fame is on it, so you can go hunting for your famous celebrity. Just don’t do what a member of our group did and get sucked into buying demo CD’s from wannabe musicians (although it turned out to be both a funny story and listen).

Finish with Dinner Jon and Vinny’s on Fairfax

Yes, carbs exist in LA! Head to Jon and Vinny’s for an epic Italian feast – they’re so good, Delta Air Lines (whom we flew over with) asked them to collab on their business class menus. You can’t go too wrong but promise me you’ll get the Pasta Alla Vodka – by mutual agreement, we all deemed it to be one of the best pasta dishes we’d ever had.

STAY:

If you want to be central and in the action, Loews Hollywood is absolutely perfect. The rooms are HUGE – like, astronomically massive – and the staff are super-friendly. Lady Gaga stayed in the fancy room just before heading to the Oscars the year she was nominated for A Star is Born, and she even played the piano in the room (you best bet I tinkered on those keys during the room tour).

If you want something a little more contemporary, on my first trip I stayed at Dream Hollywood and I fell in love with it – it’s got a young vibe, an awesome rooftop pool and bar (and it’s right next to Beauty & Essex).

Kelly was hosted by LA Tourism and Delta Air Lines, but all opinions are independent and very much her own.

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